By Ajit Sirohi
“Leading from the front” conjures up a knight like figure of a Genghiz Khan, Alexander or a Rana Pratap on Chetak charging headlong and inspiring their troops to acts of rare bravery. But “leading from the front” can also be fatal if you looked over the shoulder and found that no one was following you.
The business environment today is like a war and business managers who adopt the approach of the ancient warrior leaders will be the ones most likely to prevail. It’s a real battle for survival out there. In business they may not actually kill anyone, but apart from that, everything else is same.
Soldier : Sir, We are surrounded by the enemy from all sides.
Officer : Excellent. Now we have the flexibility to attack in any direction
Above is a very typical response of inspirational leadership to conquer fear and think of the victory
The Battle of Business
True, leading from the front doesn’t necessarily involve heroic feats and brag sessions. Your employees will know you care about your company and their success when they see that you will never ask them to do something, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that you are not willing to do yourself.
In business, many have adopted the ‘managing from the back’ model. Look at where the manager’s office is in most buildings – in the spot that’s furthest from the customers. The belief that empowerment and systems can create reliable results allowing a leader to sit in his office all day is a false hope.
The “lead from the front” is an inspirational leadership. Leaders of this kind are visionaries, full of enthusiasm and boundless energy and seek to motivate their subordinates in the process of achieving organizational goals.
What Are The Characteristics Of Such Leaders
- Encourage Action: No man can learn to be a “crack shot” unless he wastes some ammunition. Men learn only by the mistakes they make. An inspirational leader encourages his team to take the initiative and make mistakes.
- Identify the Pretenders : Barry Rand of Xerox was right on target when he warned his people that if you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant
- They love a Combat : They want to be in the thick of battle. They come into their own in such situations, always inspiring and never letting group morale flag.
- Lead by example : These leaders ‘walk the talk’. They do not give false instructions, do not exhort without knowing what it takes and meticulously follow up on what they have promised – to anyone on anything. Then, they expect the same from others.
- They are Role Models : Everybody wants to be like them. Leaders’ actions, even more than their words, communicate their values, priorities and expectations to their followers. Employees of great companies invariably reflect the attitude of their CEO.
One should also remember that demoralization and dissatisfaction are not caused by the absence of THINGS but the absence of VISION.
Inspirational leaders understand this and combine this with other traits like daring, risk and agility to achieve extraordinary results.
No Need To Look Far
I can not cite a better example than the one I personally experienced from up close in the Bangladesh War in which I participated as a young 2nd Lieutenant in the Sylhet Sector. I did not go into the direct combat, since I was in the Corps of EME, but some of my close friends then ( I played cards with them almost daily ) were in the accompanying Gorkha Regiment commanded by Lt Col AB Harolikar.
In their first attack (a silent charge with Khukris), Col Harolikar himself led the attack. I was told first hand, that he did not take out his weapon but carried a stick as he ran up & down under direct enemy fire to make his troops get up and charge forward. Two officers, one JCO and two Jawans lost their lives in that attack. It will be rare to find such a ratio of casualty of officers vis-à-vis other troops. Stirring example of the Indian Army officers leading from the front.
(The two officers who died in that battle – Capt Johri & Lt Hawa Singh – were my friends.)
Ajit Sirohi is an independent columnist writing on Current Affairs, Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Socio-Economic Issues